PUBLISHED ON: 11 September 2018

Sonia was told she had an altered BRCA2 gene after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She shares how writing helped her cope with her treatment and why she’s throwing a Big Pink party this October.

Sonia during treatment

I was only 28 years old

I was diagnosed in October 2016 after I had found a lump when I was on holiday in New York.

I turned over in bed one morning and the side of my arm felt a lump on my breast. My mum passed away because of breast cancer, so I knew what to be aware of. She used to tell me that if anything felt different I should get it checked.

I started immediately crying. My instincts were screaming that something wasn’t right, but I decided to enjoy my holiday and get it checked when I was back home.

Back in the UK, the doctor said that it could be a hormonal lump and told me to wait until I had my next period to see if it disappears. It didn’t disappear. I went back and had a biopsy, which confirmed that the lump was cancer.

When I was first told I was in shock. I was only 28 years old. I began to recall memories of my mum and what she had been through with her diagnosis. I could not stop crying.

I remembered looking after my mum

My dad and two older sisters came with me to hear my treatment plan. We went in feeling positive, thinking that I would only have to have a surgery to remove the lump. However, I was told that I would need chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.

When I heard the word ‘chemotherapy’ I remembered all of the times I looked after my mum during her treatment when I was a little girl. It was a very emotional appointment for my family and me. I started chemotherapy six days later.

During my chemotherapy sessions, we discovered that I had inherited the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer. After many discussions with my oncologist and the plastic surgeons I was asked what I wanted to do. I weighed up the risks of having the gene and what it could mean for my future.

I knew that if it came to it, I wouldn’t be able to go through it all again, especially the chemotherapy. I decided to have a bilateral (double) mastectomy with reconstruction.

Unfortunately, I ended up having a lot of complications, and what was meant to be five days turned into six weeks in hospital. I had many infections and eight surgeries within those six weeks. When I finally got home on 12 June 2017 I was over the moon. I then had to learn how to do simple things again for myself like walking upright, showering alone or getting myself up from the sofa with no help.

Sonia and her mum

Sonia and her mum, who died from breast cancer

I found a community through Instagram

I always tried to keep my spirits up. After my first chemotherapy session, I was being sick and vomiting, and my dad had to hold my hair back. By the next chemotherapy, I had shaved all my hair and donated it to the Little Princess Trust. As I was being sick into the bucket, I turned to my dad and said, ‘At least you don’t have to hold my hair back this time!’ 

I wanted to bring humour to a horrible situation and that’s exactly how I continued throughout my journey.

Sharing my story on Instagram also helped me during my treatment. Writing about my experience online connected me to other people who understood what I was going through.

I now talk to women from all over the world who relate to my experience and share their stories with me. We all support each other.

When I first started to take tamoxifen I told my followers how worried I was of the side effects. They shared their experiences with me and assured me that everything will be OK. It feels wonderful to have that community behind me and those women to turn to.

I couldn’t have fertility preservation before treatment

When I found out about my treatment plan, I wasn’t given a chance to discuss my fertility. I was told that it was too high risk to freeze my eggs. I didn’t have an option as I was being rushed to chemotherapy.

I was fixated on the possibility of not having a child. The life I had planned in my head had suddenly been taken away, and I started grieving for the child I thought I would never have. I completely lost all focus on my cancer and instead began focusing on the what-ifs.

What if I could never have a child? What if chemotherapy affects my fertility? What if I never have a family?

I drove myself crazy with it until Christmas 2016 when I went to see the lights at Kew Gardens. There, I saw the cutest little girl running around. Suddenly I knew that I would be OK if I couldn’t have a child of my own. If I had to adopt, it would be fine – more than fine – and in that moment, I let it go.

It’s now been over a year since my last chemotherapy treatment. At a recent scan, I was told that I had 12 eggs in my left ovary. I’ve now got the opportunity to freeze eggs if I want to. Despite all the time I spent worrying about the lost chance of having a child, my body’s been able to recover. It’s such amazing news.

Sonia as her hair grew

I knew I had to host a Big Pink

October is a hard month for me. It’s the month of my mum’s passing, my breast cancer diagnosis and, last year, a painful breakup.

When I saw the adverts for the Big Pink online, I knew I had to get involved. I wanted something to change the way I felt about October and turn my sad memories of the month into happy ones.

I’m looking forward to using my Big Pink to spread awareness, to bring people together and have fun raising money for a great cause.

Breast cancer has taught me to put myself first

I’m always going to be conscious of my health because of the BRCA2 gene. I’ll have my surgery and mastectomy scars forever. But I’ve accepted that this is the new me and that this is my new life.

I feel a lot stronger and more confident now than I ever have before. Life’s too short not to do what makes me happy, and my diagnosis and journey has taught me to finally put myself first.

 

Join Sonia and host your own Big Pink party on 12 October to help us reach more people affected by breast cancer.

Host your Big Pink